Dr Mohiuddin Farooque, et al. v. Government of Bangladesh, et al.

22 BLD (HDC) (2002) 534
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The Petitioner was the Secretary of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) until his death. He was concerned about the increase in industrial pollution in the country and the Government’s lack of combative measures to tackle the issue.

The Department of Environment, Pollution Control had carried out a survey identifying 903 industries that caused ecological imbalances through the pollution from their discharges. The report of this survey was published in the Bangladesh Gazette in 1986. However, on investigation, the Petitioner discovered that the Government had not taken any steps to rectify the situation since the report’s publication. In fact, the number of industries causing pollution had risen, as was evident from a new report published in 1994 that identified 1176 industries as polluters. Aggrieved by the Government’s indifference, the Petitioner preferred a writ in the High Court, contending a violation of the fundamental right to life.

The Court held that the Government could be held liable if it remained a mute spectator in this case. It held that the Environment Conservation Act 1995 (the Act) and the Environment Conservation Rules 1997 (the Rules) specifically laid down the obligations of the Director General regarding pollution prevention. Moreover, the Act and Rules clearly listed out specific duties of the officers appointed under it. The Court also held that under article 18 of the Constitution the State had a duty to promote public health, and that article 21 laid down the obligation of every public servant to perform their duties faithfully. In the instant case, despite the Government’s own ordinance dated 1986, no action was being taken against the offenders. The Government was thus liable for its inaction. The Court also held that if public functionaries were negligent or not performing their duties, it could issue necessary orders.

The Court further held that the right to life had been violated. It considered that the right to life included the right to a “decent and healthy living in a hygienic condition.” Living in a healthy environment was one of the fundamental rights of a human being. If a healthy environment was not made available, a constitutional remedy could be pursued by the aggrieved party. In this case, the Government’s inaction and negligence caused a blatant violation of the right to life of the citizens of Bangladesh and thus the Court could issue remedial directions.

The Court therefore directed the Government to ensure that existing industries were complying with the relevant laws, by adopting measures to control and prevent pollution. The Government was also directed not to permit any new industries to commence operations without first abiding by the prevailing laws.

“The expression ‘life’ enshrined in Article 32 includes everything which is necessary to make it meaningful and a ‘life’ worth living, such as. Among others maintenance of health is of utmost importance and preservation of environment and hygienic condition are of paramount importance for such maintenance of health, lack of which may put the ‘life’ of the citizen at naught.” [22 BLD (HCD) 2002, Para 18]

“…[the right to life] also means a qualitative life among others, free from environmental hazards. This is also one of the basic rights of a human being to live in a healthy atmosphere…..” [22 BLD (HCD) 2002, Para 42]